There have been a number of blogosations lately about the museum system, paticularly on Edward Winkleman's blog and at Bill Gusky's Artblog Comments.
It seems to me that museums taking on the appearances of popular venues is their reach for making art relevant in consumer society. By placing art in an environment that is somewhat familiar they hope to attract consumers. I don't think that placing art in a restaurant is the solution, though. It is possible that visual arts are less relevant to consumers because artists are not creating art for the general consumer. Everybody is concerned with appearing oh-so-edgy. Obtuse and obscure visual language has come to dominate the plastic arts, marking any attempt at accessibility as pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Nor do I think that educating the consumer is the answer. That seems so condescending. As artists, maybe it is us that need the education. I don't think the general public is uninformed just because they don't get the message an artist purports to be making. Especially when said artist is using a visual language that is superficially obtuse, so self-referential that only someone immersed in the obscure reaches of the culture of art will pick up on the references or so repugnant that only the most thick-skinned are willing to take the time to understand it. Artists that make a practice of obtuse or repugnant language should be prepared to absorb the consequences instead of moaning that nobody understands their work.
I've noticed a dichotomy in presentation in my home town. The Cultural Trust manages several performing and visual arts venues downtown. For the most part, they bring in blockbuster shows in both areas. But what is blockbuster for the performing arts(Beauty and the Beast, Forbidden Broadway) have a much broader appeal. By contrast, they have brought Doug & Mike Starn's ABSORPTION + TRANSMISSION to the Wood Street Galleries. While I have no argument with the work presented in the exhibit (it was quite lovely. Heart as Arena reviewed it here), I will observe that their appeal is to an entirely different demographic. The gallery certainly didn't come close to packing them in the same way that Beauty and the Beast did. While the Cultural Trust does bring more challenging shows to their stages, it is unheard of that they would bring in a visual artist whose appeal would be on the same level. Thomas Kinkaid at Wood Street Galleries? It would never happen.
With the information age has come an incredible diversity of sources. There are innumerable ways in which the public is bombarded with messages about every topic from the environment to the impact of poverty and the lowly standing of fur-bearing creatures. In some instances, visual arts have lost track of this availability and are putting themselves in a position where the have antiquated views on our society. We are out of step and walking backwards.
Like a number of artist bloggers, I am seeking a solution.